The Secret to Better Grades
Unstuff Your Child's Schedule
While parents want to encourage their kids' academic achievements, a child's
sense of worth shouldn't ride on his report card. Make sure he has some
chill-out time, says Donahue. "Kids ages pre-K to 11 should have at least
two days a week without anything scheduled, so they can de-stress and use their
imagination," he says. "These are critical aspects of childhood, and
such moments can't be recaptured."
Downtime can even create its own eureka moments. Graham Van Schaik, an
18-year-old college freshman at MIT, says playing outside while growing up in
Columbia, SC, made him interested in the outdoors, from constructing backyard
forts out of cardboard boxes to wondering how antibiotics given to cows affect
the purity of their manure. His natural love for science led him to earn the
second-place prize in this year's Intel Science Talent Search, one of the
world's most prestigious science competitions.
Experts caution that, as kids get older, carving out free time gets harder,
especially if the child is on a sports team or two and/or plays an instrument.
But here's a tip: Have family dinners as often as possible. Studies have shown
that they deliver a variety of academic and health benefits for
Praise Effort, Not Intellect
Sure, when your child does well on a project or a test, it's tempting to
say, "Look how smart you are!" Indeed, surveys say that 85 percent of
Americans think telling kids they're smart is good parenting. But the experts
say it's much better to acknowledge how hard your child worked. Dweck conducted
research that revealed that praising kids' intelligence rather than their
efforts can make them fear mistakes. They may shun future challenges to avoid
messing up and looking "dumb." Shifting the focus from labels
("you're a genius") to the thrill of meeting a challenge ("you
worked really hard on that") can help give them the freedom they need in
order to excel. "Many students think trying hard is only for the inept. Yet
sustained effort over time is the key to achievement," Dweck says.
This same principle can be applied when your child is really struggling with
a tough topic; parents should let children know they're doing a terrific job
within their own capabilities. Says Erica Remer, mother of top speller Scott:
"Kids need to learn that just because they're doing something challenging
doesn't mean they should give it up immediately." So reward hard work and
earnest effort with the same praise, "Good job!" stickers, and the
other reinforcements you'd dole out for a stellar report card.
Isha Jain, 17, a Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology winner
this year, says she's so self-motivated because her parents taught her that
hard work is its own reward. "That'll definitely help me in the future,
because real life isn't based on getting a 4.0," she says, summing it up
nicely. "It's the attitude that counts."